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Camp Pendleton Marines Head For First Major Deployment To Australia

Photo by Alison St John

Marines line up their gear before deploying from Camp Pendleton to Australia, April 1, 2014.

Almost 1,000 Marines leave Camp Pendleton this week for the first major U.S. deployment to Australia, part of a strategy to refocus U.S. forces in the Western Pacific.

The First Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment is on its way to Australia. It’s one of the biggest deployments from Camp Pendleton since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wound down.

Hundreds of Marines loaded heavy packs into trucks, as family and friends gathered Tuesday to say goodbye. The mood was lighter than at previous deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan: For one thing, the rotation is only six months, instead of 12 or 18 months.

As she waited for her husband to return from picking up his M16, Marine wife Cailey Self said she’s relieved her husband is not going to a war zone.

“It’s nice knowing that he’s not going to a combat zone,” she said. “It makes the worrying a little bit less.”

President Barack Obama committed in November 2011 to bolster U.S. defense ties in the Western Pacific, to counter China’s growing military presence. Obama and former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard agreed a gradually increasing number of U.S. forces would deploy to an Australian Army base near Darwin in Northern Australia.

So far, only about 200 Marines from Hawaii have gone to Australia on six-month rotations. But this spring nearly 1,200 are deploying, and most of them are from Camp Pendleton.

Photo by Alison St John

Cpl. Jason Singleton with his wife and son, before deploying from Camp Pendleton to Australia, April 1, 2014.

Like many in the crowd of Marines gathered on the parade ground beside their gear, Cpl. Jason Singleton, an intelligence analyst, said this will be different from his previous deployment to Okinawa, Japan.

“With Okinawa, it was established,” he said, “We have bases there, a presence there. Whereas in Australia it’s going to be a new frontier. Getting out there and building that diplomacy with the Australians will be a good learning experience for everybody.“

This year, 1,105 California- and Hawaii-based Marines will head out to Robertson Barracks, an army base built in the 1990s in a remote part of Australia’s Northern Territory. They will participate in international training exercises there and in New Zealand.

The barracks are reported to be the future site of the U.S. Pacific Command Marine Air-Ground-Task Force. By 2016, 2,500 U.S. forces could be deployed there annually.

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